Friday, August 12, 2005

Making Progress with the Housework

[This is a first draft.]
The ultimate horror of housework is that it is never-ending. Every morning you put on a clean outfit and have your breakfast on a clean dish. Every day someone spills something, dust accumulates, and more pieces of paper sneak into the house. If you get the daily newspaper and those who read it leave it scattered everywhere your tidy home can be wrecked in a matter of seconds. If you have a toddler with a runny nose, your home can be transformed into a den of evil bacteria even faster. Even if you live a group of neatniks, at the end of the day you have dirty laundry and dirty dishes. No matter how hard your work get ahead, the housework seems to accumulate faster than you can keep it under control. Lowering your standards may bring you some degree of sanity, but how are you supposed to keep up if you continue pushing your standards into the dirt?
The secret is setting the bar low enough to leap over without tripping over your own feet, not tossing it out altogether. You do need standards. Just like doing the limbo, you have to figure out how low you can go without falling over.
You start by catching up with the dishes and the laundry. Even if the sky is falling, you’ll want to keep your dishwasher in action and your kitchen sink cleared. If you don’t have a dishwasher, it’s even more important not to let the dishes pile up.
My husband once ruthlessly yanked me away from the kitchen to go to a New Year’s Eve party at our neighbor’s across the street. He’d spent the afternoon cooking for New Year’s Day dinner, and although he’s an excellent cook, he does not know the meaning of cleaning up as you go. Dirty dishes, pots, and pans met me at the kitchen door, and in a panic I went into dishwashing mode. I loaded and ran the dishwasher, then commenced to washing by hand.
I was up to my elbows in suds when my husband dragged me away from the sink and shoved me up the stairs to get dressed for this party. I went to the party, drank about three or four tiny bottles of Bailey’s Irish Cream, toasted in the New Year, then came back home and finished cleaning up the kitchen. At one-thirty in the morning on January 1, I stood alone at the sink in what seemed to be an endless round of washing, drying, and putting away a stunning variety of pots, bowls, spatulas, and whisks, which, in my fog of Bailey’s, seemed to breeding behind my back.
Don’t get the idea from this story that I keep a spotless kitchen. Far from it. I’m just intimidated piles of dirty dishes, and when they’re my own, my only defense is to keep them under control. My husband, who is fearless when it comes to the dish patrol, usually takes the attitude that dishes can always be washed later. If you share this attitude then do whatever is most comfortable for you. If you’re like me and you cringe at the sight your counter top being held hostage by piles of dirty dishes, then you’ll do your best to wash up as you go.
I don’t know anyone who’s willing to admit to being caught up with the laundry. Everyone I know who mentions the dirty little word freely confesses her inability to keep up. I may have a few friends with empty hampers, but if I do, they aren’t talking.
At one point in my life, I had a designated laundry day. I’d wash four or five loads of laundry and iron my husband’s shirts while watching American Movie Classics. Those were the days when I had one child in school all day and I was staying home to write fiction. I don’t know what happened to that paradise. Maybe the writing became too seductive. Maybe my husband noticed my ironing skills and gently requested that I take his shirts to the cleaners. Maybe it was having another baby to take care of - babies are well-known to be the biggest producers of dirty laundry in any household.
Whatever happened, in the battle of Allyson vs. The Laundry, the laundry appears to be winning. My only goal now is to wash, dry, and put away one load each day. When I’m good I manage to stay one step ahead, washing whatever we’re just about to run out of, whether it’s underwear, towels, kitchen linens, or outfits. It isn’t ideal, but at least I’m holding my own.
Another trick to making progress is maintaining the illusion of tidiness and cleanliness. Spend a few minutes tackling the obvious trouble spots to give yourself a bit of encouragement. Don’t dig through the closet or the junk drawer first. Pick up the floor and clear off the surfaces. If you manage to keep things looking neat on the outside, you might have more motivation to go through the scary cabinets.
You’ll also want to spend a few extra moments in the bathroom wiping down the sink and spritzing the toilets. Wash down the shower or tub before you get out and dry off. If the bathroom is relatively clean, you whole house seems cleaner for some reason, despite the layers of accumulating dust. Maybe it’s because bathrooms have the potential for breeding indescribable nastiness. Whatever the cause, if you think of spot cleaning your bathroom as you shower and dress, you’ll keep the nastiness down to a minimum.
Look for shortcuts and ways to break your work down into smaller tasks. Sort the laundry and bag it up to throw in the washer today and it’s ready for washing when you wake up tomorrow morning. If you’re extra sharp you can even put it in the washing machine, but whenever I do this I can never remember whether I’ve added soap.
Copyright © 2005 by Allyson Denise Walker-Lawrence. All rights reserved. No part of this piece may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without the permission of the author.

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